Book III

Now Charmides,[1] the son of Glaucon, was, as Socrates observed, a man of mark and influence: a much more powerful person in fact than the mass of those devoted to politics at that date, but at the same time he was a man who shrank from approaching the people or busying himself with the concerns of the state. Accordingly Socrates addressed him thus:

Tell me, Charmides, supposing some one competent to win a victory in the arena and to receive a crown,[2] whereby he will gain honour himself and make the land of his fathers more glorious in Hellas,[3] were to refuse to enter the lists--what kind of person should you set him down to be?

Clearly an effeminate and cowardly fellow (he answered).

Socrates. And what if another man, who had it in him, by devotion to affairs of state, to exalt his city and win honour himself thereby, were to shrink and hesitate and hang back--would he too not reasonably be regarded as a coward?

Possibly (he answered); but why do you address these questions to me?

Because (replied Socrates) I think that you, who have this power, do hesitate to devote yourself to matters which, as being a citizen, if for no other reason, you are bound to take part in.[4]

Charmides. And wherein have you detected in me this power, that you pass so severe a sentence upon me?

Socrates. I have detected it plainly enough in those gatherings[5] in which you meet the politicians of the day, when, as I observe, each time they consult you on any point you have always good advice to offer, and when they make a blunder you lay your finger on the weak point immediately.

Charmides. To discuss and reason in private is one thing, Socrates, to battle in the throng of the assembly is another.

Socrates. And yet a man who can count, counts every bit as well in a crowd as when seated alone by himself; and it is the best performer on the harp in private who carries off the palm of victory in public.

Charmides. But do you not see that modesty and timidity are feelings implanted in man's nature? and these are much more powerfully present to us in a crowd than within the cirlce of our intimates.

Socrates. Yes, but what I am bent on teaching you is that while you feel no such bashfulness and timidity before the wisest and strongest of men, you are ashamed of opening your lips in the midst of weaklings and dullards.[6] Is it the fullers among them of whom you stand in awe, or the cobblers, or the carpenters, or the coppersmiths, or the merchants, or the farmers, or the hucksters of the market-place exchanging their wares, and bethinking them how they are to buy this thing cheap, and to sell the other dear--is it before these you are ashamed, for these are the individual atoms out of which the Public Assembly is composed?[7] And what is the difference, pray, between your behaviour and that of a man who, being the superior of trained athletes, quails before a set of amateurs? Is it not the case that you who can argue so readily with the foremost statesmen in the city, some of whom affect to look down upon you--you, with your vast superiority over practised popular debaters--are no sooner confronted with a set of folk who never in their lives gave politics a thought, and into whose heads certainly it never entered to look down upon you--than you are afraid to open your lips in mortal terror of being laughed at?

Well, but you would admit (he answered) that sound argument does frequently bring down the ridicule of the Popular Assembly.

Socrates. Which is equally true of the others.[8] And that is just what rouses my astonishment, that you who can cope so easily with these lordly people (when guilty of ridicule) should persuade yourself that you cannot stand up against a set of commoners.[9] My good fellow, do not be ignorant of yourself![10] do not fall into that commonest of errors--theirs who rush off to investigate the concerns of the rest of the world, and have no time to turn and examine themselves. Yet that is a duty which you must not in cowardly sort draw back from: rather must you brace ourself to give good heed to your own self; and as to public affairs, if by any manner of means they may be improved through you, do not neglect them. Success in the sphere of politics means that not only the mass of your fellow-citizens, but your personal friends and you yourself last but not least, will profit by your action.

[1] See last chapter for his relationship to Glaucon (the younger) and Plato; for a conception of his character, Plato's dialogue "Charmides"; "Theag." 128 E; "Hell." II. iv. 19; "Symp." iv. 31; Grote, "Plato," i. 480.

[2] In some conquest (e.g. of the Olympic games) where the prize is a mere wreath.

[3] Cf. Pindar passim.

[4] Or add, "and cannot escape from."

[5] See above, I. v. 4; here possibly of political club conversation.

[6] Cf. Cic. "Tusc." v. 36, 104; Plat. "Gorg." 452 E, 454 B.

[7] Cf. Plat. "Protag." 319 C. See W. L. Newman, op. cit. i. 103.

[8] {oi eteroi}, i.e. "the foremost statesmen" mentioned before. Al. "the opposite party," the "Tories," if one may so say, of the political clubs.

[9] Lit. "those . . . these."

[10] Ernesti aptly cf. Cic. "ad Quint." iii. 6. See below, III. ix. 6; IV. ii. 24.